Chrome 67 protects against Spectre hacks but gobbles more RAM

Spectre Mitigation Increases Chrome Memory Usage, Google Says

While the additional security offered by Site Isolation will be welcomed, the performance hit and requirement for more resources are going to be less well-received - particularly given Chrome's RAM-gobbling reputation. Additionally, enabling Site Isolation results in some changed behaviors to frames, as Google notes that hidden cross-site frames will no longer register clicks, though they believe this to be "relatively uncommon in practice", likewise, printing websites with cross-site subframes is unlikely to work. The remaining 1% of installations without Site Isolation is used as a control group to monitor performance and issues. The flaw has represented a serious threat to people browsing websites because individual pages often serve JavaScript from multiple domains that run in the same process.

When Chrome 68 launches later this month, users will be able to verify whether Site Isolation is on or not by typing chrome://process-internals into the address bar, however, this does not work on Chrome 67.

In other words, on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Chrome OS devices, Chrome uses the security boundaries provided by the operating system to ringfence each domain into its own browser process. They'll get Site Isolation later if everything goes as planned. Site Isolation makes Spectre attacks less unsafe by using a separate renderer for each domain.

With Site Isolation, a single page may now be split across multiple renderer processes, preventing bad sites from snooping on legit ones.

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Site Isolation is enabled in Chrome for Android after the restart. According to Google, this "also [makes] it possible to block the process from receiving certain types of sensitive data from other sites".

Google said it's been working on this for several years, independently of Spectre, so the inclusion of Site Isolation was inevitable. The downside, however, is Chrome will use even more RAM than it already does. This would normally fail to render and not expose the data to the page, but that data would still end up inside the renderer process where a Spectre attack might access it.

Tip: Firefox supports a similar feature called First-Party Isolation.

"Site Isolation is a significant change to Chrome's behavior under the hood, but it generally shouldn't cause visible changes", Google's Charlie Reis explains. To date, most others have disabled the same types of precise timers as Chrome. Using a separate renderer for every domain means more active renderers, and thus, more memory usage. However, neither Mozilla nor Microsoft provided any indication when or if site isolation may be coming to Firefox, Edge, or Internet Explorer.

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